Once again when we needed it the Church of England, the nation’s hand rail was there. For Maggie, Maggie Maggie they gave her the cathedral, the hymns, the words, the sermon and the readings. And as for most of us the Cof E does the business of lending its gravitas and culture to our births, marriages and funerals. It provides us with the great railway stations of our lives. We travel through them and even stop to admire the architecture. But not much else.
Britain has become the most secular country in the Western world. In the whole world only Russia where religion was banned for 80 years and South Korea where they eat dogs and have a Reverend Moon get near our secular statistics.
In the UK 25 % claim to have no religion, only 2% regularly go to Cof E services, 33% don’t believe in God, while in the USA 71% claim they would die for God in the UK only 19% are prepared to take this difficult route to heaven.
Why Britain is more secular than other countries can be put down to the Reformation, early industrialisation, alternative atheistic social organisations such as trade unions and the Labour Party, a radical tradition, the collapse of families- we can all make our own lists.
For years I thought we had the real thing and the rest of the world had got it wrong. Hindus with their one million Gods some with the heads of elephants- give us a break. Muslims with their hysterical belief in pilgrimage, Roman Catholics with their slavish idolatrous adoration of the Virgin(sic) Mary, Buddhists with their humming and coming back as dorm mice, Jews with their hatred of bacon.. Obviously they were all barking, but as Johnny Foreigner they knew little better. But a little bit of travel and I started to realise that our belief in the resurrection, immaculate conception, forgiveness of sins, blah di blah was just as preposterous as anybody else’s idea of what makes up the stairway to heaven. And thats another thing, heaven and hell, help me Muma.
But that still leaves us with the Church of England, Even a well known Onanist and atheist such as Philip Larkin realised that something went on in a church that if it didn’t stack up to proof of a Big Other, it did amount to the fact that there is a spiritual dimension.
Then there is the whole business of our hard wired need and desire for ritual and symbolism leading to a feeling of security. I refer to the adoption by most of the very young of a blankie. This object, which no one teaches, assumes a totemic significance. Be it rag or teddy the young child will not go to bed without it. Surely religion is just a grown up version of the blankie with as much and as little significance.
But then there is the architecture, the history, its local identity,the music, the art, the words, the culture of religion. I may not believe in any of the cardinal and fundamental ideas which lead Christians to a belief in God but I value,need (believe in)the Church of England. I am glad I married in a church, I want my children to marry in church, I want to have a Christian funeral, I was glad my grand daughter was christened in All Saints. And I loved Maggie’s funeral. Do I have to believe in Waitrose to shop there?
Maybe I ‘m a lesbian.